Last week came the media reports that the Board of Regents for Higher Education, the entity responsible for overseeing Connecticut’s newly merged public state university and community college system was engaged in an unprecedented effort to remove the individual community college presidents, because some had raised concerns about some controversial policies that the new central office was pushing.
On top of that came the disturbing news that one of the top administrators in that central office, Executive Vice President Michael P. Meotti, has received a $49,000 pay increase last week, an unprecedented pay increase at a time when salaries for all state employees are frozen as a result of the Malloy-SEBAC labor agreement. .
While some states treat their public higher education systems as extensions of their political operations, where people are given jobs based on their political connections and financial donations to gubernatorial candidates, Connecticut has been relatively free of that type of corrupt system of management.
That is until now.
While the $49,000 pay increase is disgusting enough, media outlets have been slow to report that the recipient of this incredible largess is not only a friend of the Governor, but that the two have known each other since they were young boys. In addition, Meotti’s brother has often been referred to as Malloy’s best friend growing up.
When the CTMirror asked the Governor’s Office whether Meotti’s raise was contrary to the governor’s instructions, Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba told the reporter that, “The Board of Regents is an independent body, and as such it was their decision to handle the compensation of management in this manner.”
The Board of Regents an independent body?
Is there no one in the Malloy Administration who is willing to tell the truth?
Since the Board of Regents is new, all the members of the Board of Regents appointed by the Executive Branch of government were appointed by Governor Malloy!
The truth is that nine members of the Board of Regents are appointed by the Governor, four are appointed by the legislative leadership; two board members are students who are chosen by their peers. There are also four non-voting ex-officio members who can and do participate in board discussions. These ex-officio members are Governor Malloy’s commissioners of the Department of Public Health, Education, Economic and Community Development, and Labor.
But Governor Malloy’s control of decision-making in the new combined Connecticut State University and Connecticut Community College System doesn’t stop with the his control of the Board itself.
The Board of Regents has an executive staff that who manages the budget and policies of the State Universities and Community Colleges. The central executive operation is headed by President Robert Kennedy, who was personally recruited to the position Governor Malloy. Kennedy also has three vice presidents, the first being Michael Meotti, whose salary was increased last Friday from $183,339, to $232,244
In addition to Meotti, there is Vice President for State Universities Elsa Nunez. Nunez also serves as President of Eastern Connecticut State University and was a strong supporter of Governor Malloy’s Education Reform bill. Dr. Nunez’s husband Richard M. Freeland serves as Commissioner of Higher Education for Massachusetts,
The other top administrator is David Levinson, the Vice President for Community Colleges. Levinson is also the President of Norwalk Community College and has been a long-time supporter of Governor Malloy and his family.
When Lewis Robinson Jr., chairman of the Board of Regents, was asked about the controversial pay raise that Meotti received. CTMirror reported that, “he didn’t know how pay raises in the central office are approved and referred all questions either to Meotti or Kennedy.” Not surprisingly, both of these top administrators failed to return media calls.
The incredible pay increase did draw sharp criticism from Connecticut State Senator Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, and State Representative Roberts Willis, D-Salisbury, the two co-chairwomen of the General Assembly’s Higher Education Committee.
State Senator Bye, who was a leading force behind the State University-Community College reorganization and State Representative Willis, who generally opposed the merger, agreed that, as Bye told the CTMirror, “The whole point of the reorganization was for the dollars to go down to the classroom…”There’s no justifying those increases in these fiscal times. I’m outraged.”
Readers of Wait, What? will recall that as a key part of his first biannual state budget, Governor Malloy pushed through the deepest cuts in state history to Connecticut’s public universities and colleges.
The compensation story is yet another example of the Malloy Administration’s broader attempt to turn Connecticut’s public system of higher education into its political playground.
More on these developments will appear in Wait, What? as the week goes on.